Short Version: For a 3DS app, it’s pretty good, but highly lacking. Obviously, it’s nowhere near as good as using RPG Maker software on PC, but it’s still really fun to play around with. It has a ton of limitations, some menus are a bit clunky and not having double screen gameplay is a MASSIVE waste of potential, but that didn’t stop me from sinking hours into making my own game. While RPG Maker on PC is a blank canvas, RPG Maker Fes is the notebook or napkin you use to jot down a spontaneous idea when you’re not at home.
Long Version: Most people don’t know this about me, but if I had more time, I’d probably use it in creating my own game. I always have ideas floating around in my head, some of which I write down or try to make a reality through RPG Maker. For me, it’s a bit of a hobby within a hobby to make tiny RPGs that can be played in about 5 minutes. This whole time, I’ve made them at my desk on a PC, but now I’m able to do a similar thing wherever I go. Thanks to RPG Maker Fes being available on 3DS, I have been able to scratch that game-making itch at any time, but also come to appreciate how good I had it on PC.
Just like all the other RPG Maker software I’ve tried out, you begin with no tutorial, sample world or any damn clue about how to even begin making your RPG. The best way to start is to simply poke around with everything and figure out how it all connects. For an amateur like myself, that’s essentially the fun of using creation tools like these. Simply flipping all the switches, pressing all the buttons and seeing what happens is half of the experience. The other half is actually applying those things into a coherent sequence of events that make up your game. Though this is how I got by, I still would’ve appreciated some sort of tutorial or a forced sequence that got you started with basic settings.
In any case, you’ll eventually get a hang of how things work and will start to give your world shape, which is a surprisingly easy thing to do. Using the stylus and the touch screen, you can simply choose something from the pre made assets and start drawing it out. From terrain to building placement and events, it’s not difficult to get started. The difficulty usually comes from wanting something very specific, to which then you start banging your head against the wall until it works the way you want it to. As previously mentioned, it was pretty fun for me to experiment in this manner. I also loved being able to put the game down for a while, and then pick it up again whenever I felt inspired. The portability and brief chunks of play made a massive difference to sitting on my desk, loading up Steam and RPG Maker MV, giving it the feeling of a lengthy work session. However, even on 3DS, there were a few things that still felt like work, mostly the menus.
Layers and Layers
There really isn’t anything wrong with the menus themselves, but rather how they are organized. Because you are not on PC and aren’t capable of having multiple windows appear all at once, you are limited to only doing one thing at a time in the small 3DS screen. There will be many times that you will try to create something a bit more complicated, which will make you dive down layers and layers of screens to get what you need. You’ll be surprised to see how many times you have to press the back button in order to reach the starting menu. Because of this, you tend to lose track of where you are within the layers of menus and options, which can be disorienting. Since the software likes to only use one screen at a time for most cases, doing anything can turn into a really slow process. This brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves about RPG Maker Fes.
One of the things that truly upset me is how the game is available for 3DS, but contains zero double screen gameplay. Considering how no one can really play these games outside of the 3DS, I was expecting some design options around making RPGs with 2 screens. When this game was announced, I was already visualizing how I would design the battle system around this idea; or having menus, maps and inventory show up on the bottom screen, while all the action is on top. When I started up the game and realized that it only allowed for one screen, I was almost depressed at the complete waste of an opportunity in front of me. It would make sense if you could share these games out on other platforms, therefore feeling the need of keeping it all consistent on one screen. However, the only way to play these games is by downloading a free app on the 3DS that allows you to find them, so why is there a complete absence of double screen gameplay? Have the creators never seen any RPG game be made on the DS ever? There are many things that can be done with that style of play, but RPG Maker Fes doesn’t even bother.
Creativity Through Limitation
Speaking of completely wasted opportunities for creativity, you can’t add in your own custom assets into your own game, nor does it give any sort of tool to draw your own sprites with the touch screen. This is mostly due to wanting to keep the finished game’s memory small and avoiding any inappropriate content, despite the fact that you can make the characters say whatever you want through typing the dialogue text yourself. This leaves you with a small amount of pre-made assets for you to play around with, which are as generic as anything can get. Of course, you can make a good game with these regardless of what assets you use, but I would’ve liked more of them.
Overall, there’s really nothing inherently bad about RPG Maker Fes. Its greatest sin is that it’s greatly lacking in many things that could’ve made it great. No custom assets, no double screen designs, clunky menus and no tutorial of any kind make this a tough sell for anyone that doesn’t know about RPG Maker already. I would probably recommend this only to people that know exactly what it is they are getting into, which is the equivalent of writing a small idea down on a napkin when your computer is not in front of you. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it certainly feels like the “Diet” version of bigger software that already had problems with not being robust enough to begin with. It’s perfectly fun and addicting for my stupid five-minute sketches, but not really for anyone that aspires to make something bigger.